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What Colleges Look For

What is a Weighted or Unweighted GPA? Which Do Colleges Care About?

Picture of Meredith Graham
By Meredith Graham on October, 3 2022 | 14 minute read

Weighted versus Unweighted GPAs: A Closer Look

Anyone who has worked as an admission officer or college counselor will tell you that questions around student GPA come up almost as frequently as the sun rises. Families routinely ask, “Which is better, a weighted or an unweighted GPA?” To which I often jokingly reply, “Yes. And I realize you’re not asking a yes-or-no question.”

In many cases, students are trying to get at a different question that often comes from a place of fear and anxiety, and that question usually is, “Will colleges understand how hard I’ve worked in high school?” To which I answer, in all seriousness: "YES." Yes, colleges will understand how hard you’ve worked in high school, regardless of your school’s policies on weighting grades for advanced coursework.

Let’s take a few minutes to talk about what an unweighted GPA and weighted GPA are and how they work.

What’s in a GPA? Depends on Who’s Doing the Calculating

The grade point average, or GPA for short, is basically a way of trying to summarize a student’s total academic performance into one single number. (That’s really an impossible task, of course.) For an unweighted GPA, all of your classes “count” the same way toward your GPA. Health and gym have the same impact as math and history.

Easy-peasy, right? Well, while calculating it might not be hard, putting it in context is a little more complicated. Different high schools have different grading scales—some use letter grades (with or without pluses and minuses), while others simply list grades as a percent out of 100. (And if you’re at an international high school that doesn’t use a GPA at all, this whole thing can be quite baffling!) At one high school, a 4.0 unweighted GPA might be the highest possible GPA, while at another high school, the highest possible unweighted GPA might be a 4.3.

A weighted GPA basically works like a GPA bonus for students who chose to take more-challenging classes like AP, IB, dual enrollment, or honors courses. Those classes are more difficult and require more work than other classes at a high school, so some (but not all) high schools reward students for choosing them by giving those grades a boost to reflect the extra effort that went into earning the final grade. In essence, a B in a weighted class “looks like” an A when it’s calculated into the GPA.

But just as with unweighted GPAs, schools have different policies around how they weigh those advanced courses.


  • Does your high school use 4.0 for an A for a standard college-prep class, then a 4.67 for an A for honors classes, then a 5.33 for an A for AP classes?
  • Or maybe your high school uses 4.0 for an A for a standard college-prep class, then a 4.5 for an A for an honors class, then a 5.0 for an A for an AP class?
  • Or maybe your high school adds 7 percent onto your final class score, and any final grade from 90-107% is considered to be an A?

Different high schools use different approaches to weighting student GPAs, and these are only three examples of the many, MANY approaches out there. And how your school weights the GPA impacts how you calculate the weighted GPA.

The Role of the Transcript and School Report

And this is why trying to compare student GPAs without any context is like comparing apples and oranges and kumquats and kiwis—they might all technically be in the same category, but they are so different that comparison is pretty meaningless unless there’s some other information to provide context.

More than that single GPA number, what actually matters (particularly at colleges that practice holistic admissions) is what courses you took and the grades you earned in those courses. Did you challenge yourself when you had the option, and in ways that made sense for you? What kinds of grades did you earn in your courses? These colleges don’t just look at your GPA—they look at your (self-reported or official) transcript too, and they’ll see what classes and grades went into making up that GPA number.

Many colleges will ask your counselor to send a high school profile with your application, and that profile typically includes information on your school’s grading scale and other key pieces of context for understanding what a student’s GPA might look like from your high school. Some colleges will use the GPA your school gives them, whether weighted or unweighted, while other colleges (like the University of Michigan and the entire University of California system) will recalculate your GPA themselves when you apply.

Focus on What Matters

This brings me to the most important point of this whole conversation: the fastest way to add stress, anxiety, and fear to your college journey is to focus on the pieces that are outside of your control. The school and college admission policies on grading scales and how GPAs are calculated, no matter what those policies are, will advantage some students and disadvantage others. And they are completely outside of your control.

What is in your control? What classes you take and the effort you put into those classes that lead to your final grade. What’s also in your control? How you treat your classmates and teachers. How you get involved at school and in your community and with your family. How you pursue your curiosity and demonstrate kindness to others. No singular number can sum those pieces up and colleges are aware of that.

So, yes, colleges will know how hard you’ve worked. And for all of the broad social obsession with GPAs, isn’t it nice to know that colleges really do understand that you are more than just a number? Whether you’re looking at a weighted or unweighted GPA, you won’t be defined by it as a college applicant or as a person.


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*To calculate your unweighted GPA, you take the grades you’ve earned in each course, multiply those grades by the number of credits for each course, then add all of those numbers up and divide by the total number of credits you took. So it looks kind of like this:

Class Grade   Its Value   Credit    Grade Points
Math A -----> 4 X 1 = 4
AP English A -----> 4 X 1 = 4
History B -----> 3 X 1 = 3
H Lab Science A -----> 4 X 1.5 = 6
Health B -----> 3 X 0.5 = 1.5

Total credits:  5 

Total Grade Points: 18.5   

Divide points by credits: 18.5 points/5 credits =  3.7 unweighted GPA

**Here are two ways to calculate a weighted GPA using examples from above and the same grades as the unweighted GPA example. So the first example would look kind of like this:

Class Grade   Its Value   Credit    Grade Points
Math A -----> 4 X 1 = 4
AP English A -----> 5.33 X 1 = 5.33
History B -----> 3 X 1 = 3
H Lab Science A -----> 4.67 X 1.5 = 7.005
Health B -----> 3 X 0.5 = 1.5


Total credits:   5                  

Total Weighted Grade Points: 20.835

Divide points by credits: 20.835 points/5 credits = 4.167 weighted GPA

And then the second example would look more like this:

Class Grade   Its Value   Credit    Grade Points
Math A -----> 4 X 1 = 4
AP English A -----> 5 X 1 = 5
History B -----> 3 X 1 = 3
H Lab Science A -----> 4.5 X 1.5 = 6.75
Health B -----> 3 X 0.5 = 1.5

Total credits: 5

Total Weighted Grade Points: 20.25 

Divide points by credits:  20.25 points/5 credits = 4.05 weighted GPA

About Us: With more than twenty years of experience, Collegewise counselors and tutors are at the forefront of the ever-evolving admissions landscape. Our work has always centered on you: the student. And just like we’ve always done, we look for ways for you to be your best self - whether it’s in the classroom, in your applications or in the right-fit college environment. Our range of tools include counselingtest prepacademic tutoring, and essay management, all with the support of our proprietary platform, leading to a 4x higher than average admissions rates. 

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